A Hearty ‘Breakfast in America’ – Roger Hodgson (formerly) of Supertramp Rocks Chicago!

Okay, perhaps it wasn’t quite breakfast, and maybe it wasn’t exactly Chicago…and heck, for that matter, Roger Hodgson hasn’t been in Supertramp for 33 years!

But it was as close as I’ll ever get to seeing live what was one of my favorite rock bands growing up.  And even if it was only half of Supertramp’s original creative force (group member Rick Davies was the other), it was worth it to see the man behind such classics as “Dreamer,” “Give A Little Bit” and “Take the Long Way Home” performing those songs and more live.

Roger Hodgson, a co-founder and former co-leader of Supertramp, performed at St. Charles’ historic Arcada Theater on Friday night, December 9, in the second of two consecutive nights there and the last show on the 2016 leg of his current “Breakfast in America” world tour.

Roger Hodgson (formerly of Supertramp and shown here in a previous photo) performed in the Chicagoland area on Friday, December 9, 2016.

You might say that this was the latest in the “Super Senior” pop series of concerts that I’ve attended and written about this year, after having seen the likes of Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. and Dionne Warwick (both at this same venue in 2016) as well as Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Billy Joel, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Culture Club, Barbra Streisand, Chrissie Hynde/The Pretenders, Tears For Fears, Billy Idol, Pet Shop Boys and Stevie Nicks.  None of these acts or their (original) members are under the age of 55 and some of them had already seen their 75th birthdays.

Roger Hodgson, who helped found Supertramp along with Davies in 1969, is 66 years young, and he still has the youthful chops to prove it.  While watching and listening to his performance Friday night, I couldn’t tell whether it was 2016 or 1980; his voice is clearly still in top form.

Roger Hodgson circa his Supertramp years.

Hodgson left Supertramp in 1983, after their appropriately titled 1982 album, Famous Last Words…, and has never looked back – at least not in terms of rejoining the group he left so long ago.  His official membership in the band that itself still counts Davies and two others of its classic five-man lineup among its active members is clearly in his rear-view mirror.

But one wouldn’t know it after seeing this legendary British artist perform live.  Hodgson has essentially made a living out of singing his half of the old Supertramp hits catalog since he left the venerable progressive pop/rock band near the height of its success.  The group whose classic Grammy-winning album Breakfast in America, which turned out to be less prog-rock and more in the traditional corporate pop vein, serves as the tour’s namesake – and rightfully so given that Roger was responsible for that album’s title track and three of its four chart singles, including their biggest hit, the adjective-laden “The Logical Song.”

What’s so astonishing about his show is that all the songs, whether they be Supertramp covers or Hodgson’s solo stuff, were recreated on stage to near perfection.  Considering how long it’s been since they were recorded, particularly the Supertramp songs, it was a true testimony to the man’s genius that he and the four very talented musicians that accompanied him pulled this off so effectively.

Supertramp’s biggest album, the six-million-selling Breakfast in America, from 1979

To put Hodgson’s timeline into perspective, think about this context: Breakfast In America, during its 1979 peak, battled Bad Girls for chart supremacy as the two albums alternately spent six weeks each at #1 during that spring and summer.

Or how about this: when Hodgson left Supertramp in ’83, Thriller was the #1 album in the country.

And while neither the late Donna Summer nor late Michael Jackson are with us today to tell their musical stories, Hodgson still is, with songs that stand as timeless classics and play as well today as they did some 40 years ago.

And so his story began at the Arcada with “Take The Long Way Home,” one of those four classic hits from Breakfast in America, and one of many crowd favorites on this night.  Roger then took us back to “School,” by playing the stellar lead-off track from Supertramp’s critically acclaimed 1974 album, Crime of the Century.

Then came that venerable, playful title track to the band’s biggest album with Roger telling the story of the song he wrote at 19 years of age, only to bring it to Supertramp many years later.  As his introduction ended and the tune’s opening bars played, the audience stood to its feet in wild approval (one of many times they did this) and sang along to “Breakfast in America” and its satirical lyrics.

Roger Hodgson performs “Breakfast In America” at the Arcada theater in St. Charles, IL on Dec. 9, 2016.

Oh, and the audience that was singing and dancing along?  Forget about pop, this was clearly a rock-and-roll crowd.  I could envision that many of the 900 who were at the sold-out show had probably been to a Supertramp concert or two some 35 or 40 years ago, with many of their faces showing the passage of time and the harsh toll that decades of rock-and-roll living can wreak on a body.

But even the youngest among them knew and enjoyed Hodgson’s music.  The woman seated next to us couldn’t have been more than 35, yet she and her friends sang the lyrics to many of his big hits with authority.

And at times the not-so-big ones.

Next on the set list were a handful of less familiar, but still very good tunes, like “Lady” from Supertramp’s 1975 album, Crisis? What Crisis?  The song bearing that oft-used title (Kenny Rogers, Styx, Little River Band, the Whispers, D’Angelo, and Lenny Kravitz have all had hits with songs called “Lady”) is one of the many featuring the rapid-pulse electric piano chords that became Supertramp’s signature back in the day, à la songs like “Dreamer” and “The Logical Song.”

Speaking of which, Hodgson and his band mastered both of those fan favorites later in the set, and both songs received standing O’s as people danced at their seats and in the aisles during their performances.  They were interspersed with Hodgson’s solo tunes like “Lovers In The Wind,” “Along Came Mary” (not the same “Mary” that came along with The Association back in 1966), “Only Because of You” and “Death and a Zoo,” the latter being a song about animal rights which featured a strong, African-inspired percussive climax at the end as images of wild animals played on the small venue’s three screens flanking the stage.

Hodgson also performed a song he said he had recently written but not yet recorded called “The Awakening,” a tune about forgiveness, something he said he recognized the virtues of more and more with age.

It was a virtue that the audience would have to embrace for this night as well, particularly those who came expecting to hear Supertramp’s entire repertoire of hits.  One audience member, for example, shouted “Rudy” during a break in the music, a nod to the excellent Rick Davies-penned Supertramp song from Crime of the Century.  I’m sure the fan wasn’t alone in this expectation as others likely thought they’d be hearing Davies’ “Goodbye Stranger” or “Bloody Well Right” alongside the Hodgson tunes.

And while Hodgson memorably contributed his famous tenor and falsetto vocals to the original recordings of “Rudy” and “Goodbye Stranger” and could’ve easily allowed one of his backing musicians to sing Rick Davies’ parts (as they had at various times during Hodgson’s tunes), this was clearly a show about Hodgson’s compositions, both in and out of Supertramp.

With that in mind, he and his crew continued with songs like “Hide In Your Shell,” “A Soapbox Opera,” two more Breakfast in America tracks: “Lord Is It Mine” and “Child of Vision” and a full ten-minute-plus rendition of his magnum opus, the 1977 album-rock hit “Fools Overture” from Supertramp’s Even In The Quietest Moments.

That album notably includes two Hodgson songs that I had hoped to hear and which appeared on previous set lists for stops along this tour: the pensive title track and the energetic album cut “Babiji.”  But those two omitted tunes were likely casualties from previous performances that Hodgson wanted to alter.  Given his extensive tour schedule (he’s performed roughly 120 dates in just the past three years alone while criss-crossing the globe), this desire for change was certainly understandable.

However, Even in the Quietest Moments also includes the song that likely everyone came to hear, one that Hodgson played during the show’s encore performance – along with his only solo chart hit, “Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy)” – the ever upbeat signature song, “Give a Little Bit.”

The band’s performance of it was a dead ringer for the original, with even the tambourine chiming in at the perfect time during the song’s coda.  As with all the tunes before it, “Give a Little Bit” was done in its original key, and Hodgson’s voice never wavered.

When all was said and done, there were indeed two stars of this outstanding show by one of rock’s unsung living legends: Roger Hodgson and the music itself.  The music was so excellently played by Hodgson’s band, consisting of multi-instrumentalist Aaron MacDonald and keyboardist Kevin Adamson (both from Canada), bassist David J. Carpenter and drummer Bryan Head (both from Los Angeles), that you would have thought these were the original members of Supertramp.

MacDonald, appearing to be the most junior member of the band, recreated the saxophone parts of near-40-year-old hits like “Give A Little Bit” and “The Logical Song” to sheer perfection.

Aaron MacDonald playing sax with Roger Hodgson’s band (stock footage)

How refreshing was it to have a star from decades past like Hodgson perform old popular tunes as they were originally intended, without complete makeovers and new arrangements that come across as unfamiliar and contrived.

And Hodgson himself has clearly not been deterred by time or age as he “gave a little bit” of his time to us in the form of a two-hour show that was easily one of the purest concerts I’ve been to, musically speaking.

We, in turn, gave a little bit of our love to him in the form of loud cheers and a standing O that created the final impressions of a performance that closed out his 2016 concert schedule.

And with that we were indeed going home.

DJRob

Roger Hodgson (center) and his touring band mates (from left): David J. Carpenter, Bryan Head, Aaron MacDonald and Kevin Adamson

If you’re a fan of Supertramp’s music, check out this Spotify playlist courtesy of DJRob.  And see immediately below for the 20-song set list of Hodgson’s December 9th performance at the Arcada.

Set list:

  1. “Take the Long Way Home”
  2. “School”
  3. “Breakfast In America”
  4. “Lady”
  5. “Lovers in the Wind” (Hodgson solo song)
  6. “Hide in your shell”
  7. “Along Came Mary” (Hodgson solo)
  8. “A Soapbox Opera”
  9. “Easy Does It”
  10. “Sister Moonshine”
  11. “The Logical Song”
  12. “Death and a Zoo” (Hodgson solo)
  13. “Lord Is It Mine”
  14. “The Awakening” (Hodgson solo)
  15. “Only Because of You” (Hodgson solo)
  16. “Child of Vision”
  17. “Dreamer”
  18. “Fool’s Overture”

Encore:

  1. “Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy)”
  2. “Give A Little Bit”

Key Omissions (penned by Hodgson):

  1. “It’s Raining Again”
  2. “Even In The Quietest Moments”
  3. “Babiji”
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